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Voyeurism is a practice in which the individual derives sexual pleasure from observing other people. Such people may be engaged in sexual acts, or be nude or in underwear, or dressed in whatever other way the "voyeur" finds appealing. The word derives from French verb voir (to see) with the -eur suffix that translates as -or in English. A literal translation would then be “seeor” or "observer", with pejorative connotations.

Voyeurism is a deviant manifestation of sexuality that involves looking without being seen in order to obtain sexual pleasure.

In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality,[1] Freud examines sexual perversion and indicates the circumstances under which "the pleasure of looking [[[scopophilia]]] becomes a perversion (a) if it is restricted exclusively to the genitals, or (b) if it is connected with the overriding of disgust (as in the case of voyeurs or people who look on at excretory functions), or (c) if, instead of being preparatory to the normal sexual aim, it supplants it."

Later, in "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes" (1915c), he provided a metapsychological explanation for the instinct of looking, which involved the voyeur-exhibitionist pair and the reversal of activity into passivity in connection with a precise object: "the sexual member."

The different instinctual currents of seeing are inflected by the voyeur, who tries to see the other's genitals while hiding his own, but who also tries to be seen looking, in order to respond to what he believes is the other's desire to see.

Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan would later say that the voyeur wants to be seen as a seer. Freud continued to emphasize the visual component of the perversions, but for him the specificity of voyeurism is important because of the vicissitude of the instinct of looking rather than its role in perversions. Rather than allowing the evolution of the instinct (component) of looking to develop in different directions, the voyeur reduces the sexual and the visual in sex to a narrow, stereotypical sexual situation. He appears to do away with the sexual, the multiplicity of objects and choices, by wrapping them in a rigid fantasy. He tries to block the aggression in the instinct in order to obtain pleasure, to the detriment of the other. By splitting the ego, he uses sex for the purpose of discharging instinctual violence. By appropriating the other as image, the voyeur makes it an object of pleasure, while remaining uninvolved in the other's intimacy. The voyeur does not seek any form of exchange or relationship, but obtains pleasure by seizing the other's image against its will. The goal is not only the sight of parts of the body that are concealed out of modesty or cultural opprobrium, but also to dismember the body of the other. The voyeur watches what is forbidden in order to destroy the physical integrity of the person by substituting a dismembered body for the unified image. Several circumstances can lead to the occurrence of voyeurism. The instinct to see is used through disavowal and fetish formation to deny castration. The fantasy of the phallic mother and the split of awareness of the lack of a penis leads to rage and need for revenge towards her.

For Masud Khan, the pervert does not succeed in creating a transitional object when reacting against the encroachment of the maternal unconscious, but manages to fabricate an "internal collage-object," which he then tries to discover in external reality. The voyeur engages in this type of theatricalization of the sexual relation by manipulation, submission, and humiliation of the object.

Robert Stoller has insisted on the cultural necessity of the perversion "forged by society and the family so that they are not harmed further" by instinctual cruelty. Because voyeurismturns the other into an image, an object of envy and covetousness, it appears to also bear witness to the visual focus of Western society. Seeing at any cost is an imperative that is often confused with science's objective of mastery. In an "omnivisual world," according to Jacques Lacan's expression, the voyeur becomes the one who does not allow himself to be blinded by sexual difference but cannot support the truth. He knows exactly what his mother is like, but tries to save his phallic image through some visual sleight-of-hand. More than anyone, he denies what he sees: the rift between the sexes, the fracture of bodies.

See Also


  1. 1905d
  1. Bonnet, Gérard. (1996). La violence du voir. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
  2. Freud, Sigmund. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.
  3. ——. (1915c). Instincts and their vicissitudes. SE, 14: 109-140.